2011 Draft in Retrospect: How Much to Ignore “Helium”?

640px-Happy_New_Year_2011_banner== Lots to like about the guys whose stock was falling ==

News item: Sonny Gray stifles the Mariners for the A’s.

News item: George Springer just called up by the Astros after 37 homers in AA/AAA in 2013.

News item: Anthony Rendon has 1.008 OPS in 14 games for Washington.

What do they have in common?

  1. All were taken in the 2011 draft.
  2. All were under consideration for a top-5 pick prior to the 2011 college season.
  3. All had their stock drop between February and June.
  4. All could have been taken by the Mariners at No. 2, when Danny Hultzen got the nod.

Rendon went at No. 6 to the Nats; Springer at No. 11 to the ‘Stros; Gray at No. 18 to Oakland.

Add in Jackie Bradley, who dropped to No. 40 (he also had an injury), who is with the Red Sox though not setting the world on fire, and it seems like almost all the most successful players from that draft are ones who had disappointing pre-draft seasons.

Of course, there are exceptions — the biggest one being Jose Fernandez, who is looking like one of the best young pitchers of all time — but it’s an interesting proposition.

As it happens, the miracle of the Internet allows us to easily find the Baseball America Top 50 ranking from February 2011, and also their final pre-draft ranking from May.  Those for whom the final draft position was more than five slots higher than the February projection are in blue (“helium” guys); those for whom the final draft position was more than five slots lower than the original projection are in red (fading guys).

Feb. May Actual Comment
Anthony Rendon 1 1 6 Now filling in at 3b for Zimmerman, hitting plenty
Gerrit Cole 2 3 1 Starting for Pirates, 3.43 ERA
Matt Purke 3 32 96 Messed up by injuries, just getting to AA
George Springer 4 11 11 Tore up AA & AAA, just called up
Sonny Gray 5 12 18 2.28 ERA in first 15 games
Taylor Jungmann 6 8 12 Still in AA, not making a big impact yet
Jackie Bradley 7 34 40 Opened 2013 in the majors, but not hitting a ton
Matt Barnes 8 13 19 10.6 K/9 in minors, one of BoSox top arm prospects
Archie Bradley 9 9 7 Top D-Back prospect
Bubba Starling 10 6 5 He’s not “The Natural” yet
Danny Hultzen 11 4 2 On the cusp, then massive shoulder surgery
Jed Bradley 12 14 15 Nothing exciting so far
Francisco Lindor 13 7 8 Reached AA at 19 — fast track
Daniel Norris 14 16 74 Making slow progress
Dylan Bundy 15 2 4 Made 2 starts for O’s at 19, now recovering from TJ
Trevor Bauer 16 5 3 Controversial RHP traded to Cleveland, yet to “click” at MLB level
Henry Owens 17 33 36 Big K and big BB totals, in AA at 21
Anthony Meo 18 55 63 High BB rate, hasn’t pitched in 2014 yet
Jose Fernandez 19 20 14 Came in 3rd for NL Cy at 20, even better so far at 21
Dillon Howard 20 31 67 Hasn’t pitched since 2012

===

The “helium” group includes Fernandez, who looks to be the best player in the entire draft, and Bundy, who was making major waves before going down with injury.

That being said, there is a good case to be made for the consensus “getting it right” at the outset of the regular season, only to “lose its nerve” as the season progressed.

Clearly that’s not always the case, as it became apparent, for example, that something was wrong with Purke that might not be easy to fix.

But in the case of Rendon and Bradley, their injuries were not out of the ordinary, and, clearly, their top-10 talent had not disappeared.  Of course that’s easy to say with 20-20 hindsight, and without a big-money bonus on the line.

It is interesting, though, that Rendon, Springer and Gray appear likely to be among the top handful of players coming out of the 2011, and that Baseball America had it right the first time.

Among the “helium” guys who don’t look quite so good in hindsight are Bauer and Hultzen, both of whom moved up the ladder with huge college strikeout totals.  And maybe it’s not a bad idea to retain some skepticism about guys who rise like that before the draft.  But Hultzen was looking like a good pick (even if maybe not a No. 2 overall) before his shoulder problems, and Bauer may still regain the magic.

So probably the ultimate lesson is not to ignore the “helium” guys, but to pay closer attention to the guys who were considered top-5 or 10 and appear to be fading without a clear injury issue.  That’s where you would have found your George Springer and your Sonny Gray.

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One thought on “2011 Draft in Retrospect: How Much to Ignore “Helium”?

  1. Wise advice. I’d also incorporate stronger reviews of pitching and injury history to try to weed out medically suspect arms for pitchers.

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